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Stella defends plans to force DStv, Netflix users to pay for TV licence

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Communications and Digital Technologies Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams has come to the defence of the government’s plan to extend the payment of television licence fees to viewers who watch streaming services.

Minister of Communications Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams at the DTPS/Nokia Innovation Day. File picture: Jacques Naude/African News Agency (ANA)

Communications and Digital Technologies Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams has come to the defence of the government’s plan to extend the payment of television licence fees to viewers who watch DStv and Netflix on their mobile devices.

Ndabeni-Abrahams made her stance known responding to parliamentary questions from DA MP Mike Waters after the Draft White Paper on Audio and Audio-Visual Content Services Policy Framework was published for comment.

The draft white paper was published at a time the SABC licence fee revenue decreased in 2019/20 by R177 million from the previous financial year.

The document sets out the government’s plans to increase its revenue through various mechanisms, including getting pay-TV broadcasters like DStv and streaming services such as Netflix to help regulate TV licence compliance.

It also proposes that internet and television streaming websites pay a percentage of subscription fees to the SABC for any public broadcaster content aired on them, and expand the definition of devices subject to TV licences to include smartphones and tablets.

The proposals had prompted Waters to enquire about the justification of charging people with mobile devices the cost of a television licence and transferring all the income of TV licences derived from mobile devices to the SABC.

In her written response, Ndabeni-Abrahams said the proposals “require review and consequential amendments to the TV licence fee section to broaden the definition and collection system for television licences”.

She said the proposal also aimed to strengthen enforcement and penalties for non-payment.

“Achievement of the above will be determined by the submissions expected from all South Africans towards the draft white paper,” Ndabeni-Abrahams said.

But DA spokesperson Zakhele Mbhele said he would write to Ndabeni-Abrahams to ask her to justify the government’s intention of charging people with mobile devices the cost of a television licence.

Mbhele said Ndabeni-Abrahams failed to answer the written parliamentary question from the DA.

“The minister instead chose simply to quote from the Draft White Paper on Audio and Audio-visual Content Services Policy Framework: A New Vision for South Africa 2020.”

Mbhele charged that the draft paper proposes to exploit another stream of revenue to bail out yet another state entity brought to its knees by years of gross mismanagement.

“It seems the minister knows that this is not justifiable, given her poor attempt at answering the question,” he said.

“It is the same White Paper that seeks to extend TV licence fees to include payment for using streaming services like Netflix, regardless of whether such a service is viewed on a television,” he added.

In a separate question, Ndabeni-Abrahams said the draft white paper dealt with the promotion of South African content and languages.

“On-demand content services targeting South African audiences, they should also have South African content obligations,” she said.

The white paper proposes that internet streaming services should include 30% local content in their video catalogues.

The minister stated that the South African broadcasting industry was heavily regulated to ensure that it adhered to the local content regulations as stipulated by the regulator.

“The on-demand content services have started to take root in the South African market, where currently there is regulatory vacuum. The White Paper seeks to ensure there is parity in regulating the audio visual content market, including the on-demand content services.”

Ndabeni-Abrahams also said the proposal for 30% was to ensure that on-demand content services contributed to the overall development of the creative industries, similarly to the traditional broadcasters.